Why Ballet Dancers and Choreographers Should Take a Page from Broadway's Playbook
Let me start with a confession: Growing up, I was the type of dancer who believed that there was only one kind of real dance: Ballet! Everything else was for the unchosen ones; other dances were fabricated by humans for the large masses who were not selected by Terpsichore. Dance was human. Ballet was divine.
Fast forward 30 years. I'm the artistic director of Tulsa Ballet, and I now understand that ballet was just a step in the evolution of dance, a journey that started with the Homo sapiens and has taken us to Broadway and hip hop. Now, at age 57, I appreciate ballet but love contemporary dance. But my passion? It resides in Broadway!
Courtesy Tulsa Ballet
It all started, if ever so gently, when I worked with choreographer Gillian Lynne on the BBC ballet A Simple Man in 1987. It was dedicated to the life of the British painter L.S. Lowry and starred Moira Shearer and Chris Gable. Lynne cast me as one of Lowry's paintings, one of the leading roles. She fascinated me; her energy in the studio was off the charts, her ability to get movements and shapes out of her body uncanny. Her expectation that every step she choreographed was executed with meaning, power, strength, energy and commitment refreshing. So, upon coming to the U.S. a few years later, I went to see my first Broadway show, The Phantom of the Opera, which Lynne had choreographed. I was blown away!
Today, as an artistic director, I go to New York City every year for company auditions. Confession number 2: I always buy a ticket to go see a Broadway show. Not New York City Ballet or American Ballet Theatre or Alvin Ailey, but Broadway. And every time I see one of those shows, I wonder what would happen if you were to mix the power and expressivity of Broadway dances with ballet.
Courtesy Tulsa Ballet
I think the current system for ballet companies robs dancers of their edge, whereas in Broadway, you need to remain marketable all the time. When a show opens, nobody knows how long it will run, and there is always a chance you may be unemployed in a matter of weeks. The cast needs to engage their audience show in, show out, as lackluster performances may lead to reduced ticket sales and, rather quickly, the show closing.
This principal also applies to choreographers: On Broadway, a flop means you may not work there anymore. In the concert dance world, choreographers think differently. They are entitled to experiment, and sometimes use company resources to find their voices. There's nothing wrong with that—we all have to find our voices. Yet remembering that dance is a means of communication with the people on the other side of the orchestra pit might make the difference between encrypted communication and human dialog.
Courtesy Tulsa Ballet
This edge, the one that Broadway choreographers and dancers possess, is a bit dull in ballet. This edge, though, is what made ballet companies in the 1950s, '60s and '70s brilliantly exciting—their survival (as institutions and as individuals) depended on each and every one of their shows and performances.
Lastly, the language of Broadway dance is very 21st century. An audience doesn't have to translate from Latin or Petipa to understand the meaning of the work, making its impact instantaneous.
Energy, focus, and the instant communication of emotions and intellectual concepts are what I admire about the Broadway world. I am equally sure that Broadway choreographers are similarly impressed with ballet dancers' technique, purity of shapes and dedication to the art form. We might be the yin and yang of a very wide field, both admiring the green grass on the other side of the fence.
And so, after many years of sitting on that fence, I asked Andy Blankenbuehler to create a piece for Tulsa Ballet. In May, I will have the answer to my quintessential artistic question: What happens when you mix ballet and Broadway? When you combine the ability of perfectly tuned instruments to strike beautiful shapes and do technical feats with the charisma of musical theater? I'll stay tuned for the answer.
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Summer is almost upon us, and whether you're a student about to go on break or a pro counting the days till layoff, don't forget that with warm weather comes a very serious responsibility: To maintain your cross-training routine on your own.
Those of us who've tried to craft our own cross-training routine know it's easier said than done. So we consulted the stars, and rounded up the best options for every zodiac sign. (TBH, you should probably consult an expert, too—we'd recommend a physical therapist, a personal trainer or your teacher.)
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
It's become second nature in dance studios: The instant anyone gets hurt, our immediate reaction is to run to the freezer to grab some ice (or, more realistically, a package of frozen peas).
But as routine as icing our injuries might be, the benefits are not actually backed up by scientific studies. And some experts now believe icing could even disrupt the healing process.
I'm a contemporary dancer, and I'm nervous about trying to get pregnant since I can't predict if it might happen during the middle of the season. We have a union contract that is supposed to protect us. But I'm scared because several of my colleagues' contracts weren't renewed for no particular reason. Having a big belly could be a big reason to get rid of me!
—Andrea, New York, NY
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
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When the going gets tough, the tough start dancing: That's the premise behind "Dance of Urgency," a recently opened exhibit at MuseumsQuartier Vienna that features photos, video and other documentary material relating to the use of dance as political protest or social uprising.
The groups featured in the show, largely based around clubs and electronic dance music scenes, span the globe and respond to a variety of issues—from inequality and social stratification to racial divides to crackdowns on club culture itself.
Last night, longtime theater legends (including Chita Rivera herself!) as well as rising stars gathered to celebrate one of Broadway's danciest events: the third annual Chita Rivera Awards.
The evening paid tribute to this season's dancer standouts, fabulous ensembles, and jaw-dropping choreography—on- and off-Broadway and on film.
As usual, several of our faves made it into the mix. (With such a fabulous talent pool of nominees to choose from, we're glad that ties were allowed.) Here are the highlights from the winner's list:
When you're a foreign dancer, gaining legal rights to work in the U.S. is a challenging process. It's especially difficult if you're petitioning to work as a freelance dancer without an agent or company sponsorship.
The process requires professional muscle along with plenty of resources and heart. "There's a real misnomer that it's super easy," says Neena Dutta, immigration attorney and president of Dutta Law Firm. "People need to educate themselves and talk to a professional."
Here are four things every foreign dancer who wants to work in the U.S. needs to know to build a freelance dance career here.
What does it take to "make it" in dance? It's no secret that turning this passion into a profession can be a struggle. In such a competitive field, talent alone isn't enough to get you where you want to be.
So what kinds of steps can you take to become successful? Dance Magazine spoke to 33 people from all corners of the industry to get their advice on the lessons that could help us all, no matter where we are in our careers.
On May 18, 1919, Margot "Peggy" Hookham was born. She would grow up to become Dame Margot Fonteyn, England's first homegrown prima ballerina. She joined the Sadler's Wells School in 1934 and was performing principal roles with the precursor to The Royal Ballet the next year. Fonteyn was a company-defining figure, dancing Aurora for the re-opening of the Royal Opera House after World War II, creating numerous roles with Sir Frederick Ashton and forging a legendary partnership with Rudolf Nureyev.
Memorial Day is notoriously one of Chicago's bloodiest weekends. Last year, 36 people were shot and seven died that weekend. In 2017 and 2016, the number of shootings was even higher.
When Garley "GiGi Tonyé" Briggs, a dance teacher and Chicago native, started noticing this pattern, she was preparing her second annual Memorial Day workshop for local youth.
The event's original aim was simple: "I wanted the youth of Chicago to have somewhere they could come and learn from different dancers and be off the streets on the South Side on this hot holiday," she says.
A recent trip I took to Nashville coincided with the NFL draft. As we drove into town, my Uber driver was a fount of information on the subject.
I learned that there are 32 NFL teams and that the draft takes place over seven rounds. That the team that did the poorest during the previous season gets first pick. That during an earlier event called the scouting combine, the teams assess college football players and figure out who they want.
There is also the veteran combine for "free agents"—players who have been released from their contracts or whose contracts have expired. They might be very good players, but their team needs younger members or ones with a certain skill set. All year round, experienced NFL scouts scan games across the country, checking out players and feeding that information back to the teams. Players' agents keep their eyes on opportunities for their clients which might be more rewarding.
While I sat in the traffic of 600,000 NFL fans I got thinking, is there something ballet could learn from football? Could a draft system improve young dancers' prospects and overall company caliber and contentment?
Despite what you might think, there's no reason for dancers to be afraid of bread.
"It's looked at as this evil food," says New York State–certified dietitian and former dancer Tiffany Mendell. But the truth is, unless you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, bread can be a healthy source of carbohydrates—our body's preferred fuel—plus fiber and vitamins.
The key is choosing your loaf wisely.